Can You Be Promoted Too Quickly?

Career Blog

There’s a difference of course between ten years of experience and one year of experience repeated ten times.

When it comes to expediting one’s career trajectory, project and role diversity can be a great catapult. Callenges, stretch assignments, and mistakes can also advance our learning curve. That said, too many young professionals adopt a “fake it till you make it” mindset which can encourage them to talk their way into a job they are not ready for. The trouble is others will soon discover you’re faking which can increase the chances of your failing in a very public way.

So how can you balance ambition and patience? How do you find the optimal blend of learning and doing? The answer in part depends on the actual gap between where you are and where you want to be. It also depends on your personal risk tolerance. Before diving in to a opportunity simply because it presents itself, consider the following factors:

  1. The Cost of Failure: A potential problem with getting promoted too quickly is that you might lack the skills to do the work, a reality that can have negative implications for you and the organization. There’s nothing wrong with betting on yourself, but don’t ignore the odds. Mistakes happen and offer great lessons, but complete crash and burn failures can be tough for some people to recover from, especially when they never see the impact coming.
  2. Your Impact On Others: If you take a risk as an independent contributor is and fail, the damage is largely containable. Maybe your personal brand takes a hit. Perhaps the project timeline shifts to the amber. Cost, quality, and speed missteps are never ideal, but they can be managed. On the other hand, if you accept a manager role without any preparation your ineptitude could actually damage other people’s careers. Every manager has that first job and most assume the role with little training, but don’t take it lightly. People are counting on you so make your actions count.
  3. Money Money Money: Internal promotions often do not carry the same financial benefits as external transitions. In an ideal world, hiring managers would evaluate what you’ve actually achieved regardless of salary, but most are locked into a mindset that bases new offers on previous earnings. If your “promotion” comes with a fancy title and a boatload of work, but no meaningful increase in compensation, an acceptance just sets you up for a series of awkward conversations with recruiters where you have to defend your asking price. Avoid this by making sure your promotions come with extra responsibility AND extra pay.
  4. Promotion Alternatives: If you’re not ready for a big promotion, it’s okay to stair step it. For example, you can take a team lead position, head up a project, or even do some volunteer work to get management experience before signing up to run a department. If you’re partially ready for the leap, make sure you know you’re weakness and have both a development plan and manager support to fill those gaps along the way. Finally, if you’re ready and there are no formal promotional opportunities at the company ask for something that will propel your career when the time is right e.g. tuition assistance, a certification course, even a mentor who can help you with that additional project you want to run. Do the extra now and when opportunities arise, your preparation will make you the easier winner. What’s more, you’ll be ready for it.

It’s hard to say no to an opportunity especially if it’s comes with a new title and increased pay. Just make sure it’s the right choice for you at the right time. Many smart people have succeeded in the wrong direction and have had to spend and an enormous amount of time walking back what at one time seemed like a brilliant career move. Take time to consider the true long-term value of the opportunity before making a move.

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Be sure to check out my latest book The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi


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